OCOSINGO, CHIAPAS, MEXICO — Recent government antics in Chiapas seem more to resemble jungle vaudeville than they do a serious effort to settle with the rebel Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in that conflict zone.

On March 29, apparently in response to the EZLN’s highly successful (3,000,000 votes) national and international consultation on indigenous rights, Chiapas Governor Roberto Albores Guillen flew reporters to a jungle resort just outside Ocosingo, to witness what was described as the voluntary disarming of an alleged EZLN fighting unit under the governor’s newly minted “amnesty” law.

Reporters on the fly-along were treated to the sight of 14 to 16 men in guerrilla garb marching out of the jungle, wading across a knee-deep Jacate river and depositing 11 battered weapons on the far shore. After reading a short press release, the supposed freedom fighters plunged back into the bush without pausing to answer questions from reporters. Although most of the news-hounds who accompanied the governor to the elab-orately staged event were dubious about its legitimacy, the nation’s two television networks — both of which are affiliated with the long-ruling (70 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI — gave the story extensive play.

In a communiqué issued several days after the theatrics, the EZLN unmasked the gun turn-in as having been directed by one Alfredo Jimenez Cruz, a one-time Ocosingo City Hall employee. The rebels then listed the names of Jimenez Cruz’s fellow thespians, all of them affiliated with the PRI, and chastised the Albores government for dipping into social budgets to promote such extravaganzas. The rebels chalked up the caper to “a failed effort to discredit the EZLN’s March 21 consulta.” The communiqué underscored that the fake Zapatistas had been allowed to move the guns through military roadblocks and charged that the weapons would soon be returned to the PRI henchmen who are said to form part of the much-feared paramilitary Anti-Zapatista Revolutionary Indian Movement, or MIRA, reportedly founded by a former PRI deputy.

—John Ross

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